Tyves 13, 1014
“Now, class, it is time for our religious instruction,” said Mother Julian. The class groaned. “We shall be considering the founding of the Church today and the conversion of Brutus. Carefully attend all that I say, as this is a common topic on the Camford exam.”
That made the class groan again. Maybe it was understandable — most of them wouldn’t be going to Camford. Geoff had learned by listening around that the cathedral school had been founded with the idea of educating the nobility and the wealthiest of the commoners of Albion. Unfortunately, the nobility and the wealthiest of the commoners only had so many children … so in order to keep the classrooms full and the tuition money coming in, the nuns had opened the doors to anyone who could afford to pay. But they still taught according to the Camford preparation curriculum, in no small part because most of the parents realized that this was the best education their children could get, short of Camford itself.
And some students …
Geoff took out his quill and notebook and prepared to write. Some of the students might actually get to go to Camford.
And he was one of them!
But it wasn’t guaranteed. He had to apply himself. He had to do well on all the tests Mother Julian (and Brother Galahad, although Brother Galahad wasn’t much for formal tests) gave. He had to get good feedback from her. And he had to not only pass the Camford exam when the time came, he had to pass it with room to spare. Uncle Richard had told him that he was happy to invest in a young man with promise, but he expected some return on that investment. Geoff could start showing that return by doing well now.
So, even though Geoff had heard the story of the conversion of Brutus before, in church, many times — who hadn’t? — he listened and took notes anyway.
Mother Julian started the way she always started: by reading the relevant passages from the Book of Wright. She said this was the best and indeed only way to start, because everything ultimately had to be traceable back to the Book. Legends, stories of saints who lived after the Book was written, fireside tales, even the labors of the most scholarly and learned — they were worth nothing if the grains of truth they held did not ultimately spring from the Book.
“And so the Spirit of Wright moved King Brutus,” intoned Mother Julian, “as he listened to wise Robert’s words, and just as Robert had finished his story, he flung himself at Robert’s feet and demanded, ‘Oh, great Saint, I know that you are truly from the Lord, the Creator who is most high. I cast aside the gods of my ancestors as things of no value, and I beg that you convert me and my whole household this very instant!’ And so –”
“Mother Julian?” asked another of the students — Jack Andavri, the Cap’n’s grandson.
Mother Julian stopped and sighed, as she usually did when Jack asked a question. “Yes, Jack?”
“Isn’t it true that King Brutus was an enemy of the Remans, and that he was bound to be in favor of anything that annoyed them as much as St. Robert did?”
Mother Julian glared. “It says in the Book that ‘the Spirit of Wright moved King Brutus,’ Jack.”
“But–” said a sweet voice from Geoff’s left. Geoff’s heart skipped a beat. Nyasha!
She was, in Geoff’s unstudied opinion, the prettiest girl in the class, and he couldn’t understand what luck had led him to be seated right next to her. Well, he could in a way: Mother Julian seated them in alphabetical order by their last name and age, and C and F weren’t that far off in the alphabet. Still, there could have been any number of students with last names starting with D or E between them. But there weren’t.
Now, to make his luck even better, Geoff would just have to manage to actually talk to her …
But not right now, much as he longed to say something to Nyasha — especially when she had slapped her hand over her mouth and was staring at Mother Julian with wide and almost frightened eyes.
Mother Julian, however, did not seem angry — if anything, she only looked curious. “Yes, Nyasha?”
“D-don’t you say that the Lord moves in mysterious ways?” Nyasha asked. “Maybe — maybe the Lord made sure that King Brutus didn’t like the Remans so that King Brutus would be willing to listen to St. Robert when he came.”
“Ah,” replied Mother Julian. “That is quite clever, Nyasha. It is of course entirely possible that it was in the Lord’s plan for King Brutus to dislike the Remans, as you say.” Mother Julian nodded. “And since that would serve to give King Brutus a reason to listen …” She glanced — or perhaps glared — at Jack. “We can assume that it was for holy, and not base, reasons that King Brutus converted to the True Faith. After all, if he merely wanted to work against the Remans, he need not have converted, along with his whole household, and authorized the Wrightians to begin the work of converting all of Glasonland.”
A hesitant hand went up to Geoff’s right — Podrag Carey, Hamrick’s younger brother. Geoff liked Hamrick; he was one of the only other people (besides Hamrick’s sisters and Podrag, and Jack Andavri) who hadn’t gone to the Cathedral school since they were old enough to start their schooling. Besides that, he was friendly and had a way with quick, witty retorts that Geoff envied when he wasn’t too busy taking notes.
“Yes, Podrag?” asked Mother Julian.
“The–we always learned that the people of Glasonland have to be the same faith as the King,” said Podrag.
“That certainly makes sense,” said Mother Julian approvingly. “One cannot be a good king and allow one’s subjects to walk the primrose path to perdition.”
“But–but that started before the True Faith,” stumbled Podrag. “At least — I think so …?” He sent beseeching looks to the back of Hamrick’s and his older sister Alyssin’s heads.
Alyssin was nodding, and Hamrick said, “That’s what we were always taught, Mother Julian.”
And for once in her life, Mother Julian looked flummoxed. Geoff wondered why. He hadn’t learned what the Careys had, but they probably went to better schools than he had. But surely Mother Julian ought to have known that already?
Then again … some of the other students had mentioned that Mother Julian and Sister Margery were originally from a city on the outskirts of Reme …
“That … that may very well be the case,” Mother Julian said finally. “But again, it only makes sense. Perhaps, even in Glasonland’s remote pagan past, the Lord was preparing the way for the True Faith. Remember, He works in mysterious ways.” She looked down at her book again, then added, “And perhaps you ought to keep that tidbit in mind for the Camford examination, those of you who will be taking it. Showing knowledge of the political history surrounding the early days of the Church — provided that you interpret that knowledge in a faithful way — usually manages to impress the examiners.”
Geoff duly noted that down. He would have to ask his mother … no, he wouldn’t ask his mother. Blanche wouldn’t know if Podrag’s assertion was correct any better than he would. He would ask Freddy. Freddy at least had a Camford education and might be expected to know.
The lecture continued for another half hour. Geoff continued to take notes. Even though he had known the main lines of the story before, Mother Julian had other historical notes, references to other saints’ lives, and explanations for some of the things mentioned in the Book that Geoff had always found puzzling. So, all in all — especially if this topic was likely to appear on the Camford exam — it was a good lesson.
And it wasn’t a math lesson, which always tended to make Geoff’s head swim. So even if it wasn’t as fun as grammar (well, the poetry and history parts of grammar), as bracing as logic, or even as intriguing as rhetoric, it was still a good lesson.
However, soon the bell from the cathedral was ringing. “That concludes the lesson for today,” said Mother Julian. “For next week, I would like you to compose a brief essay in which you explain the conversion of King Brutus and its effect. Model it as you would a Camford examination essay. We shall be discussing the assignment in more detail in the days ahead. Until then — class dismissed.”
There were many differences between the cathedral school and the dame school Geoff had been attending. But one thing, he was interested to note, was always the same. The minute the teacher said, “Class dismissed,” there was still that abrupt flinging down of quills and parchment, hasty capping of inkwells, and general mad rush to get to the door. Geoff was part of that rush more often than he would like to admit.
But today he knew that the wagon to take him home wouldn’t be there for another half an hour, so there was no need to hurry. And Hamrick was fighting the general flow of students to the door to get to him. “So, Geoff — a quick dash to the square, to get some food? You and me? What’d’you say?”
“I can’t,” Geoff sighed. “The wagon will be here in half an hour.”
“Aww, come on, live a little! It won’t take that long to go there and back. We could probably do it in half an hour … if we ran …”
Geoff raised one eyebrow.
“All right, all right, so maybe running wouldn’t be that much fun. But the wagon won’t leave without you!”
That was true … technically … but … Geoff flushed and shook his head. “My mother and grandmother need me home to help out.”
His first priority these days was school: Uncle Richard had made it clear that he wanted and expected Geoff to succeed, and his mother had made it clear that she hoped for that, too. But his grandmother had also made it very clear that the shop wasn’t going anywhere, and Geoff was expected to help in it whenever he wasn’t working on schoolwork. So that left having fun with his friends … his third priority, and a distant one at that.
“They really need to let up on you, son. Let you live a little! You’re only young once!”
Geoff smiled, about to shrug and say that not everybody was lucky enough to get to be young — when he heard something.
“… but I need to look at some books in the library before the wagon comes, Rhoslyn. I’m sorry …”
“But Nyasha …”
Geoff barely avoided looking over. Nyasha was going to the library?
Hamrick, however, seemed to sense Geoff’s not looking, at least by the way he suddenly raised his eyebrows and cocked his head toward Nyasha. Geoff felt his ears start to burn.
But Hamrick only grinned. He clapped Geoff on the shoulder. “So I guess you have to go to the library, Geoff? What a pity. So much for running down to the square.”
“Uh … I guess …” Nyasha was already leaving! It was only with an effort that Geoff kept his gaze on Hamrick.
Hamrick, however, continued to grin. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. And I’ll see you tomorrow!”
Wait — he was leaving? He couldn’t just leave!
Although … him leaving did Geoff a reason to just go to the library … Geoff swallowed, straightened his tunic, pushed his hair back from his face, and headed to the library as bravely as he could.
Nyasha was already inside. Before her was one book propped on a stand and her copybook open before her. Geoff found himself wondering what it was that she was studying. He knew Nyasha was clever, but he had never really seen her studying before. Most of her cleverness seemed to be solid common sense combined with a good start for an education.
Nyasha looked up and smiled shyly at him. Geoff smiled just as shyly back. He wandered over to one of the bookshelves and picked up a book he had been trying to work his way through in his spare time — a treatise by the Reman statesman and philosopher Anicius Manlius called The Consolation of Philosophy. He wasn’t as far as he would like, but there was a lot in there to digest. It also didn’t help that it was in Old Simlish and was probably far above Geoff’s level in it at that.
The book just happened to be in the shelf that was nearest to Nyasha — but Geoff still hesitated. “Do — do you mind if I sit here?” he asked, one hand lying hesitant on the back of the chair.
Nyasha looked up. “Oh — oh, no! Of course not.” She smiled again.
Geoff smiled back and sat — more thumped — down. He opened his book to a place at random and tried to settle in to read.
But … he couldn’t. And it didn’t matter that he didn’t get nearly as much time with the Consolation as he would like. With Nyasha sitting there … concentration was all-but-impossible.
Still, he tried to focus his eyes and his mind on this latest song of Philosophy, as she tried to cheer up the betrayed and world-weary Manlius.
Then Geoff heard a sigh, and he looked up. “Something — something wrong?”
Nyasha turned to him with huge eyes. “I — oh!” She flushed and looked down. “No. No, of course not.”
Geoff cocked his head, ready to listen … if only she would talk!
“It’s really nothing,” Nyasha repeated. Geoff felt his eyebrows starting to rise. Those were the words of a woman trying to convince herself more than the person she was talking to. He’d heard that kind of tone often, starting when his father had first become ill.
Geoff turned back to his book with a soberer mind. Maybe he ought to be paying more attention to what Manlius was saying, and less attention to —
He saw something out of the corner of his eye — a pair of white-clad shoulders slumping.
“Do … do you want to talk?” Geoff asked. “I mean — about what … might be bothering you?”
Nyasha looked up at him with her black bangs falling almost into her wide eyes.
“I mean … I can listen …”
“But … you’re reading …”
Geoff looked down at his book. “It’s … it’s the Consolations of Philosophy,” he replied. Nyasha cocked her head to one side. Maybe she hadn’t heard of it. “I–I don’t know much philosophy,” he stumbled on, “but — but it would be silly of me not to … to try to console somebody if I had the chance.” He shrugged.
“But …” Nyasha looked away, and Geoff thought his cause was lost. Also — had he managed to offend her? Or make her uncomfortable? It would be just his luck if he had done that.
Then she started to talk again. “But I’m so lucky. Mother Julian always says that. That we girls are lucky.”
We girls — did she mean the orphanage girls?
“How — how so?” asked Geoff.
“Oh … because we … we weren’t tossed out on the street when we were babies. Or worse,” Nyasha murmured. “Because we got to be raised in the Church. Because Mother Julian is making sure we all get a good place so we can grow up and have a — a way to keep body and soul together. Because we get this good education, too.” Nyasha blinked at her book and pushed her hair out of her eyes. “So I really have nothing to complain about.”
Geoff frowned. “Are … are you saying that? Or is Mother Julian?”
Nyasha blinked and gasped at him. “What–what do you mean by that?”
“Well …” Geoff looked at his book. It was easier to do that than to look at Nyasha. “My–my grandmother liked — still likes — to tell us that we’re lucky. She … my father died a few years ago,” Geoff filled in. “She says that fatherless children like us are lucky to be doing as well as we are. We could have been tossed out on the street when he died. We could have lost–we did lose everything,” Geoff corrected. “But we got it back. And now we’re doing fine. So Grandma says that we have nothing to complain about. But …”
“But?” asked Nyasha.
Geoff thought of the Cap’n as he said this, and winced a little. He hoped the Cap’n would understand, if he ever came to hear this. “That doesn’t change that we still wish our dad hadn’t died.”
Geoff looked up at her with a hesitant smile. “But–I guess we — my brother and sister and I — are kind of lucky, aren’t we? We got to know him …” Well, not Pippa, not really. She barely remembered their father. But Henry and Geoff did, at least. “And we still have our mother. So I guess we don’t have much to complain about …”
“I guess … not,” Nyasha replied, shoulders slumped. Geoff’s heart skipped a beat. He hadn’t meant to make her feel worse!
“I just wish …” Nyasha murmured.
“You just wish?” Geoff prodded.
“Somebody always has it worse. I know we have to remember that, but … it’s hard enough to feel bad, without feeling bad for feeling bad.”
“I know,” Geoff agreed. Did he ever know that.
“But I guess there’s no help for it,” Nyasha shook her head. “Unless you want to be the person who has it worst of all …”
“And nobody wants that,” Geoff finished. “You’d have bigger problems.”
“Aye,” Nyasha agreed. But her eyes were still shadowed …
Then, without warning, she got up and pushed her chair in. “I had better get going,” she murmured. “The wagon will be here any minute …” She glanced at Geoff. “You take the same one, don’t you?”
“Aye,” Geoff agreed, standing as well and putting his book back. “I can’t be late, either. I have to help out at home.”
“And I … well, me too,” Nyasha replied. Geoff wondered where home was for her. He always got dropped off before she did. But it would be prying to ask … wouldn’t it?
But he couldn’t let her walk out to the front of the building without saying one more thing — even if it was stupid. Even if he would be walking out with her. “Um, Nyasha?”
He awkwardly extended a hand. “It–it was nice. Talking to you, I mean. If you … if you ever want to talk again …”
Nyasha just as awkwardly took it and just as awkwardly shook. “Thank–thank you.”
It wasn’t much … but it was something.
And Geoff could now at least say he’d talked to her once.